“Giant Days” #1 by John Allison and Lissa Treiman is about a trio of friends at university, and it’s equally friendly to new readers and readers who are familiar with Allison’s previous webcomics oeuvre. “Giant Days” has the same characters as the webcomics of the same name that were already collected into three issues, but Allison creates a fresh start for this new miniseries.
The first page is the weakest part of the “Giant Days” #1 and undersells Allison’s abilities. Susan’s thumbnail description of herself and her friends makes them seem like cookie-cutter types, but what follows is better than that. Throughout the rest of the issue, the text boxes are minimal and the words are snappier.
The plot is naturalistic in that there’s no magic or anything supernatural so far, just students and their interpersonal drama. Allison uses two familiar tropes to get things rolling: a bet and a transfer student. The bet plays itself out within “Giant Days” #1 but the transfer student, McGraw, looks like he’ll be an object of attention and possibly an antagonist for the whole series. Allison efficiently sets up a conflict and the hint of a juicy backstory, hooking the reader with the notion that Susan’s history with McGraw has to really be something to get her so ruffled.
Allison makes exposition look easy. The interplay of relationships falls into place casually and with almost instant familiarity, always a difficult trick to pull off. It’s hard enough to get one character firmly established by the end of one issue, but Allison manages to get Susan, Esther and Daisy all set up pretty well and he also throws out some lines for Ed and McGraw. What’s more, like a good parent, Allison doles out the love equally. All the characters get some good lines and panel time. The conversation that Esther and Daisy have before Esther’s boxing session is gleeful. Esther’s conservation with Ed, where she compares her drama to a “Victorian lady’s bustle,” is also a delight.
Allison has been compared to Joss Whedon and, for once, the comparison is warranted. It’s not just superficial similarities like the school settings and the focus on friendships. His fluid, casual dialogue is exceptional in how it mixes unrealistic levels of wit with catchy speech rhythms. The cast as a whole is crucial to the series’ appeal. The character descriptions are nothing new but, in the story, each character feels fresh because of Allison’s swift pacing and the crackling back-and-forth of conversations.
Although Esther is on the cover, Susan is the de facto lead for “Giant Days” because her first-person narration kicks off the comic. Esther is the character that pours fuel on the fire with her “drama field,” but there would be no fire without Susan’s animus towards McGraw. The first-person POV feels like a misstep, unless it resurfaces later in the story to better effect. As a whole, “Giant Days” feels more like a limited third-person POV. Susan tells the reader more indirectly via conversation with Daisy and Esther than through voiceovers, and the story is much more focused on interpersonal relationships than solitary inner developments.
Allison was the artist for his webcomics work, but it was smart decision for him bring in Lissa Treiman as the penciller for “Giant Days.” Her fluid, more expressive line is stronger than Allison’s work in “Bad Machinery” and she also has a knack for the dramatic body language that both enhances the humor and makes each character’s movements feel individual and memorable. Her transitions are so fluid that they feel casual, and that’s a perfect match for the tone and pacing of “Giant Days.” Cogar’s colors add depth and reinforce the light mood, and her palette choices for the outdoor campus backgrounds and for Susan’s room are particularly creative and beautiful.
“Giant Days” is off to a fantastic start. If the rest of the miniseries is as addictively fun as this debut issue, it’ll be a must-read.